Separation in Singapore Via Deed of Separation and More
In Singapore, separation is a popular solution for couples trapped in troubled marriages. Spouses may enter into a separation as and when they want because the laws regulating spousal relationship do not require cohabitation.
The sole ground for divorce is irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, and there are 4 legally defined ways of proving this irretrievable breakdown: adultery, desertion, unreasonable behaviour, or separation for a period of time. Separation is often the preferred option when neither party is at fault for the breakdown of the marriage.
There are 3 main ways for spouses to bring about separation:
Couples are free to separate informally by living apart any time they wish to do so. However, in order for separation to count as a valid ground for divorce, the separation must be valid. Separations may be valid if either or both parties intend for it to lead to divorce. With an informal separation, physical separation is usually required.
Physical separation may be present even if the couples live under one roof, if there is a clear disruption of marital or sexual relations. Also, the parties must generally not have performed other typical spousal duties, such as cooking or cleaning for each other. Separation must also be by choice of the couple, and not merely a matter of necessity (e.g. if a husband works abroad for a year, that may not count as a valid separation).
Deed of Separation
In Singapore, a Deed of Separation is a formal, legally binding document signed by a married couple containing the terms and conditions of their arrangement to live separately. A deed of separation is also known as a separation deed.
There are two main categories of clauses in a Deed of Separation:
The first category contains terms relating to the separation itself. This includes the date when the parties separated, the living arrangements of both parties, and the agreement that both parties will live separately from each other.
The second category contains terms on financial arrangements between the spouses and other terms. This has to be mutually agreed upon. Examples of this would be whether there should be any division of matrimonial assets (who gets the car), maintenance terms concerning the children’s living arrangements (who gets to care for the child, and how much access the other spouse gets).
In this sense, a deed of separation is not too different from a divorce agreement. A lawyer is usually hired to draft the deed of separation, although an oral agreement or a written document composed by the couple may still hold water as a separation agreement.
It should be noted that a Deed of Separation can only be invoked with both spouses’ consent, and need not be registered with any government department or court. However, the Family Court can set aside terms of the Deed that it considers to be unfair or improper. Yet, this doesn’t not apply where the court has officially sanctioned the Deed.
While signing the Deed means that both parties can live apart, but it does not change the legal state of their marriage – both parties are still considered legally married despite the Deed of Separation. For either party to remarry, a divorce is necessary. Nonetheless, a Deed of Separation is useful as a precursor to divorce, in that it prepares both parties for the realities of divorce. In this sense, it is useful for spouses who have a hope of reconciling in the future.
Couples may also file for a court order for judicial separation, pursuant to section 101(1) of the Women’s Charter. This course of action may be more onerous, because of the need to prove the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, on the grounds of adultery, unreasonable behaviour, or desertion.
However, you might want to file for judicial separation if you believe your spouse will not comply with the terms of a deed of separation. This is because failure to comply with a court order (for judicial separation in this case) can constitute an offence.
For more information, read our other article on judicial separation in Singapore.
By force of section 375(4) of the Penal Code, a husband can be found guilty of raping his wife if the act of penetration was done without her consent. It does not matter whether the couple were living together or separately at this time, or whether they were still married.
The penalties for marital rape in Singapore are a jail term of up to 20 years, and either a fine or caning.
Outcome of Separation
The separation can end in either reconciliation or divorce. The conditions for divorce continue to apply. 3 years of separation is required for divorce with both parties’ consent. 4 years of separation is needed for divorce without consent.
Should you require any guidance on the costs of hiring a divorce lawyer, please refer to our Divorce Fee Guide.
Couples may also wish to seek marriage counselling before they conclude on divorce.
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